Trial begins for five men charged in gang rape
New Delhi, India (CNN) — The trial of five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi is expected to begin Monday in a fast-track court, the latest step in a case that has appalled and transfixed India.
In the December 16 incident, passengers and the driver of a bus are alleged to have attacked the woman and her male companion, robbed them and dumped them by the side of the road.
The badly injured woman was flown to Singapore for treatment after the attack. She died about two weeks later while undergoing treatment. Her male companion survived.
The five men are charged with murder, rape and kidnapping and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The case is being heard in a so-called “fast-track” court, which India introduced to try to expedite cases in a justice system bogged down by red tape. It means hearings in the trial should take place every working day until a verdict is reached.
The magistrates’ court that initially heard the case imposed restrictions on what the news media can report about court proceedings.
That practice is common in rape cases in India, and the magistrate said it was also necessary to protect the suspects’ safety amid intense media coverage and widespread anger.
A sixth suspect, who is believed to be too young to be tried as an adult, is facing proceedings in a juvenile court.
The case has prompted rallies in cites across India and an uproar over the treatment of women.
Authorities have not released the name of the woman, but Indian protesters have been calling her Damini, which means “lightning” in Hindi.
“Damini” is also a 1993 Bollywood film whose lead female character fights for a housemaid, a victim of sexual assault.
The government has pledged to strengthen laws against sexual assaults following the outrage over the case.
The events have also focused the attention of the Indian news media on attacks against women around the huge country. Newspapers and television stations have been reporting other shocking rape allegations on an almost daily basis.
The number of reported rapes in India — a country where a cultural stigma keeps many victims from reporting the crime — has increased from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, according to official figures.
Most women in India have stories of sexual harassment and abuse on public transportation or on the streets, the Indian Council on Global Relations says.